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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised earlier today by the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith concerning sittings of the House during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the question raised by the hon. member deals with the manner in which the House will conduct business involving all members in the coming weeks, as the country continues to be confronted by a crisis which is without precedent in recent history, I thought it important to return to the House with a ruling quickly.
During his intervention, the member alleged that the rights and privileges of several members would be violated by any motion to proceed with the business of the House while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. According to the member, many of his colleagues are unable to physically be in Ottawa to participate in debate because of their obligation to follow quarantine orders when they return to their respective province. In response to the exceptional circumstances we are facing, the member requested that the Chair postpone the resumption of the House business to a later date, in accordance with public health guidelines.
It is important to recall that although the Speaker fully understands the sentiments expressed by the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, he is bound by the Standing Orders and decisions of the House in this matter. The house has the exclusive right to govern its internal affairs, schedule its work and establish the conduct of its proceedings. In this regard, during the sitting of Saturday, April 11, a decision was made to adjourn until today, and this order was respected. It is not within the Speaker's purview to question a decision of this nature made by the House.
I also wish to underscore that, both in the motions that the House has adopted in the past few weeks and again today, there has been a recognition of the very particular circumstances in which we find ourselves. For example, the House has recognized the need for members to respect physical distancing and has provided ways that members can participate in proceedings remotely. These are but two examples of how, with the co-operation of members from all sides, the House has shown flexibility in adjusting its rules and practices and demonstrated that our proceedings are quite adaptable. In addition, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has been charged with evaluating other ways of managing business in the current circumstances and I am confident that it will be able to suggest an acceptable course of action for everyone.
The motion passed today is another example of this approach, which permits the House to decide how it wishes to conduct its affairs. A careful reading of the motion does not reveal anything that could in any way prevent members from travelling to Ottawa to participate in the proceedings of the House.
Instead, their movements would be limited upon returning to their community, as the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith explained. I know that all hon. members wish to follow the advice of our public health agencies, as the House Administration has been doing from the beginning of this crisis. I also recognize that for those members who travel to participate in the proceedings of the House, those instructions may have significant consequences for them and their families. However, the key question is to determine whether or not they can fulfill their parliamentary duties.
In my view, it is not for the Chair to dictate to members the manner and degree to which they will participate in the proceedings of the House; as the House has itself determined, the choice rests with them. For this reason, I cannot find there is a prima facie question of privilege in this case.
I thank members for their attention.
Before we return to our constituencies to resume our work there, I would like to take a moment to extend my thanks to all those who continue to provide support so the House of Commons can fulfill its responsibilities to Canadians.
I thank all the members who are here in the House. They are working under unusual conditions, and I appreciate it.
I would also like to thank our staff in Ottawa and in the members' constituencies for their unflagging support as members carry out their duties both here in the chamber and in the communities they represent.
The amazing House Administration, Library of Parliament and Parliamentary Protective Service teams also deserve our sincere appreciation. Their support made it possible for us to sit today confidently and safely. I thank them for showing Canadians that the House of Commons is hard at work despite the pandemic.
Finally, my heartfelt thanks go to the women and men who care for us, keep us safe and keep us fed. We are deeply grateful to all front-line and health workers who, under the most difficult circumstances, are making every effort to ensure we will get through this together stronger than ever.
Accordingly, pursuant to order made earlier this day, the House stands adjourned until Monday, May 25, 2020, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 8:18 p.m.)
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